Survey: Print YP ‘Most Effective’ for SMBs

AT&T (yellow pages) commissioned a survey of 1,000 US small businesses (from 10 US markets) and this morning put out a press release about it. Here are the top-level findings reflected in the release:

  • 63% currently advertise in a printed Yellow Pages directory, the most commonly named form of advertising among the respondents by nearly a 2-to-1 margin
  • Small businesses ranked the printed yellow pages first as the medium that generates the most calls from potential customers
  • About 53% said they expect to buy online ads featuring videos within the next couple of years
  • About 23% advertise online currently, and two-thirds have their own Web site

More findings:

  • 20% expect to spend more on Internet Yellow Pages
  • 38% expect to spend more on Internet banner ads
  • 43% said they spent more on keyword-search traffic this year compared with last year, and 34% expect to keep increasing that spending next year
  • 72% of businesses expect to spend the same amount on print Yellow Pages advertising next year, and 11% will spend more
  • 19% of respondents also expect to spend more next year on newspaper and magazine ads — the second-most mentioned medium in the survey

Here are some reactions and thoughts:

It’s always a bit of a problem when a company commissions a survey that finds, lo and behold, that its own product is the “most effective.” However, the survey was reportedly independently conducted by Western Wats Data Collection Agency.

There’s less and less clarity today about where customers are coming from, with more sources being used — though in the aggregate more customers are using the Internet as a “primary resource” (TMP Directional Marketing, 2007) than any other single medium. But within the “Internet” category, they’re coming from multiple sources (search, IYP, verticals, etc.). The perception that printed YP is the “most effective” medium is based on the legacy of the medium and not necessarily a correct perception of consumer behavior today (though in selected markets it may be).

The number of businesses that have a website in the survey (“two-thirds”) is high. It would mean that 66% percent of SMBs have a website. Clearly however the larger the headcount, the more likely to have a site and do online marketing today.

In the online SMB survey that Opus Research and AllBusiness conducted in August of this year, the self-reported number with a website was 55%, with about 12% of the SMB-respondents having more than 100 employees. Of those companies with four or fewer employees in the survey, 46% said they had a website. (Since we never defined “website” for them, this could potentially include profile pages on third-party sites.) Of those respondents with more than 100 employees, but less than 500, 75% had a website and 64% did online marketing today. Thirty nine percent of the four or fewer employees group said they did online marketing.

While I’m not clear on the precise methodology of the AT&T survey, the number that stated they currently did online advertising (23%) strikes me as fairly accurate. The Opus number is probably somewhat high because of the online survey methodology. What’s also interesting is how “advertise online” and “website” are not equated. Opus-AllBusiness also had the same general finding.

The findings surrounding online video are generally consistent between the AT&T and Opus results. AT&T found 53% “expect to buy online ads featuring videos within the next couple of years.” We found in the category of businesses with 5-24 employees that 57% indicated an intention to pursue video advertising online in the “next 12 months.” In the four and fewer employees group, the number went down to 41%.

In a fragmented, multi-platform world yellow pages are in a generally strong position to act as an “agency” for their small business advertisers across media. Print YP will remain strong and probably stand out above the noise in selected markets, though in most major metros it will decline and be weaker vs. the Internet as an aggregated category. The trend, even in the AT&T research is toward greater SMB awareness of the Internet as a critical ad medium.

Video is an interesting product because there’s high demand and it can be sold as a premium offering. And the combination of video, clicks and calls across sites and platforms could potentially bring the online product (or products plural) to within striking range of the margins generated by print.


13 Responses to “Survey: Print YP ‘Most Effective’ for SMBs”

  1. Niki Scevak Says:

    Greg, I don’t think “It’s always a bit of a problem when a company commissions a survey that finds, lo and behold, that its own product is the “most effective.” is quite as bad as you think: if a business *only* advertisers in the print yellow pages, why wouldn’t that medium be the most effective?

    I think the only way is to see among those 23% of businesses that presumably advertise on both, which one was more effective.

    Also, maybe someone in corporate communications forgot to remove this line from the summary: “72% of businesses expect to spend the same amount on print Yellow Pages advertising next year, and 11% will spend more.”

    Unless of course, that is meant to be a sad state of relations (that businesses spending the same is a good thing) of the industry.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks. I’m talking about the perceived credibility of the findings of course. But as I say I believe they’re credible for several reasons. One issue for businesses that don’t advertise in anything other than YP (but note the 2/3 that have sites) are they seeing the same number of leads? There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that the print YP isn’t working as well as it used to — though it still may be delivering plenty of viable leads.

  3. » More Local Statistics Says:

    […] Here is another blog article focusing on local advertising from an expert with a twist of domains. This is a excerpt from Greg Sterlings Blog. […]

  4. Yellow Pages and Internet Not ‘Zero-Sum’ « Screenwerk Says:

    […] by the debate over print yellow pages usage. An article in MediaPost today, citing the recent AT&T research, raised this again for […]

  5. Michael D Says:

    I just saw this today after reading the SEL article. We advertised last year in print yellow page publications and major metro areas (using call tracking) to measure ad performance.

    We also purchased top position banners in the online versions (also with call tracking). Compared results of both print and online Yellow Pages to things such as locally related keyword optimization for organic rankings (put call tracking on those pages too).

    Have not tallied up all of 2007 results yet but will be happy to share with you when they’re available.

    Thanks for the great article on search engine land!

  6. Greg Sterling Says:

    Sure. Would love to see/know.

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  10. Rav Says:

    Would love to get “Michel D” your analysis of Yellow book usage.

    I still hear people use yellowbook for local specilized needs and internet more globally available products. Like if you want a custom cake or custom clock repair done you would still go to yellowbooks.

  11. Greg Sterling Says:

    Yellow pages usage varies by market and by population. Also when there are two or more printed directories in a market it affects usage as well. What’s interesting is that some of the third party/Borrell Data show that broadband HH use printed directories more than the general population and dial-up users, which is totally “counter-intuitive.”

  12. spats Says:

    Hi Greg;

    Hopefully you can help me. I am trying to find a ranking report by headings(product and services found in YB books) taht are the strongest in the IYP world. The IYP is irevelant, I am looking for the top headings people will use a IYP before. I know there is top 10 somewhere, I was looking for that and hopefully more ranking.

    Appreciate anything you can do or direct me too

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